Saturday, March 17, 2018

British Colonialism

I think it's really interesting when we talk about specifics about British colonialism in Africa because I can relate a lot of it to stories about colonialism in India I've heard from my grandparents. My grandparents often tell me stories about life under the British Raj and how the "Britishers," as they call them, impacted our family. For one, my grandfather always used to tell me about how British officers would pin kingdoms against each other to create divisions in the nation. This tactic is extremely similar to what we learned was applied in Africa. Moreover, my grandmother tells me about how land was taken away from families as a means of destroying their livelihoods.

On a more personal level, British colonialism tore a lot of my paternal family apart. My paternal grandmother's family was fairly well-off and had been earning their livelihood through agriculture. However, when my grandmother was only about three years old, their maid was hired by a local British officer to kill my great grandfather because of his refusal to follow a British law. After my great grandfather was killed, my grandmother's family lost much of their land and faced a great deal of suffering. On my maternal side, my grandparents and great grandparents were known to house Indian freedom fighters and those persecuted due to religion in their home. I have a lot of really interesting stories I've heard throughout the years from my family, and I really enjoy reading colonial literature because I'm able to draw connections between what my ancestors faced and what others have faced as well.

Achebe and The New Yorker

Achebe is probably the most well known Nigerian author. There have been many articles written by and about Achebe on the importance of his novel Things Fall Apart. As I've been researching all about Achebe for class I came across this article by The New Yorker from 2008 about his life and novel. It was a very interesting read, but it was a bit on the long side and a little outdated. I'll link the article below if anyone would be interested in reading it as well.


One interesting aspect of modern Nigeria is its large film culture, which is the third most valuable in the world behind India and the United States. Colloquially called Nollywood, film represents an important part of modern Nigerian culture and economy. Film has a long history in Nigeria, dating back to colonial times. The production of film greatly increased following oil booms in the 1970's, with lots of films being produced and shown in theaters. However, many of the movie theaters declined in the 80s, but there was a large boom in home video films. Marked by some by the 1992 film Living in Bondage, the home video market was huge, with thousands of films produced a year. Most of the films, however, were made on shoestring budgets and were of questionable quality. In more recent years, there has been a resurgence of larger productions in recent years, and the Nigerian film industry continues to thrive.

I find this aspect of Nigerian culture interesting for several reasons. For one, I think many Westerners would not think that an African nation has such a larger and thriving film industry, which speaks to Western conceptions of Africa. It reminds me of the man who told Achebe that Africa doesn't have any of the literature stuff, as he would probably be even more surprised to learn about a thriving film industry.

Some aspects of Nollywood, both the term and the industry itself, are somewhat controversial. I found some critics of the term, saying that it is a Westernized view of Nigeria's film industry. This can be especially misleading given how different the Nigerian and American film industries are, with differences such as the lack of a similar studio system in Nigeria. Also, Nigerian film has come to dominate most of African film production. However, many other countries such as Ghana have developed their own cinema cultures. I think Nollywood is an interesting and important part of modern Nigerian culture.

Concept of Time

Time is one of those concepts that carries a deep meaning in society but often isn't recognized for its influence. When we think of major cultural factors, we think of religion, gender roles, tradition, etc. but not really of time. However, the interpretation of time can justify much of the overall attitudes of societies. In the Western Hemisphere, time is linear and based off of the future. Thus, we work for what is to come and constantly seek to improve our futures. On the other hand, in the Igbo society, time is based off of the past. As Achebe describes, people focus on what has already happened and how that can shape what is coming. Because of this, the worship of ancestors and overall respect for elders becomes a huge part of Igbo daily life.

Another important aspect of time is how it is determined. In African tradition, time is established by specific events. Moreover, the only time considered is that of the past, present, and near future. Events that can take place in the distant future are not even considered part of time at all. On the other hand, in the West, time mostly consists of the future. Of course, the past is an important determinant of events, yet most people work daily to attain a goal in the distant future. Whether it be a job promotion or college diploma, members of the West often carry a long-term goal in their minds which they hope to accomplish.

I think it's interesting how an element as subtle as time and its interpretation can so drastically alter societies. Because the Igbo focus on the past, they are a more tradition-oriented people and emphasize rituals and respect. Because Western society focuses on the future, they live more high paced lives and constantly look forward to something.

Clashes of Times

I've been studying Hinduism in religion class and just watched this TED talk by Devdutt Pattanaik, who is an Indian mythologist and writer. Before becoming a mythologist, Pattanaik worked as a businessman, and when he worked with people from the West, he noticed clashes between the concepts of cyclical (Hindu) and linear (Western) time. A great example that he gives is the encounter between Alexander the Great and the gymnosophist, an ascetic. Alexander asked, "What are you doing?" and the gymnosophist answered, "I am experiencing nothingness." When the gymnosophist asked the same question, Alexander answered, "I am conquering the world" (linear time and obsession with "progress"). They both laughed, each one thinking that the other was a fool. The Western thought of living one life influenced Alexander to do as much as he could in his lifetime. On the other hand, the Hindu thought of living infinite lives influenced the gymnosophist to do nothing because his actions wouldn't change anything in the cycles of his life. We can relate this clash of times with the conflict between African concepts of time and linear time. According to our reading, Africans value the adjacent past and distant past, and the future doesn't exist to them because it didn't happen. But in the linear concept of time, the future is what we look towards. There's no looking back. European colonists probably thought that a concept of time besides a linear one didn't exist. Speaking of looking back, I think the plagues of the West's obsession with "progress" is one of the reasons why Eliot wrote The Waste Land. In addition to WWI, colonialism was definitely one of those plagues.

Let's Cycle Through It Again...More on the Abiku

I was interested in finding out more about the concept of Abiku, and I came across an interesting article about the “real life story” of an Abiku, by Ayodele Olofintuade.  The story tales place in Lagos and centers around an “Abiku” named Adunni, who painstakingly decides which mother to be born to.

Then the article talks a bit more about Abikus in general.  The word means “born to die.”  Apparently, the Abiku enters the womb of a pregnant woman and replace that child already in there (which I didn’t know).  They enjoy alone time, ant-hills, dung hills, really dark nights, and when it’s hot outside.

The length of time an Abiku stays for varies.  Some stay for a few days, some die “right after their wedding night.”  Apparently, they don’t always return to the same mother; sometimes they go to different women.

Supposedly, Abikus like hanging out with each other; in the night, they transform into grown-ups, but return to their infant bodies before dawn.  Abikus wish they were mortal because the constant rebirth means that they can never have peace.  However, more than anything Abikus want to be powerful, which is why they like manipulating their parents so much.

Some names I came across that were not so conciliatory:
“Kilanko (Wherefore should the naming be ceremonious?); Oku (The dead, the deceased); Aja (A common dog); Omonife (It cannot be known by any better name than the mere one of a ‘child’); and Tepontan (No longer feared, respected and cherished).”

Achebe and Brown University

Achebe was a faculty member at Brown University from 2009 until his death in 2013. Upon his death, Brown University released a video that featured clips of various other faculty members talking about Achebe and clips of Chinua talking about the impact and purpose of his novel, Things Fall Apart.  This video is pretty short, but I believe it gives great insight into the type of person Achebe was and gives valuable knowledge behind the motives of his most famous novel.